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Monthly Archives: December 2016

AMERICA’S EERIEST GHOST TOWN

There’s no looking back now, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.
The tarmac road reaches a sign that reads “Bodie Historic Park” and a crunch falls beneath your tyres as you land on the sun-bleached dirt track. There’s no looking back now, literally, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.

Slowly and jerkily I approached Bodie, air conditioning blasting the hell out of my face. You can’t help but feel a bit intrepid on this track near the border of California and Nevada, but I knew mine was just one in a long list of vehicles that had pounded the road over the last 160 years.

The first horse and carts arrived in 1859, when prospector William S Bodey discovered gold and established a mill here. Over the next couple of decades the dozen-strong population swelled to ten thousand – families, thieves, miners, journalists. All moved to this remote town in the foothills of Eastern Sierra in hope of a more prosperous life.

These days, it’s tourists who make the journey – about 200,000 per year – in cars during summer and snowmobiles during the treacherous winter (Bodie is over 2500m above sea level). And there are some unwelcomed guests, too.

“The ghost hunters are a pain in the neck,” the park ranger told me as we wandered along Main Street, her swagger reminiscent of a gun-totin’ sheriff. My flip-flopped feet were chalky white, the camera slung around my neck already disconcertingly hot in the midday sun. “They watch these ghost hunting TV shows about Bodie and try to break into the park at night. Now we have to patrol the place twenty-four seven.”

During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.
I empathized with her. California State Parks probably does have better things to spend its time and money on than foiling ghost hunters. Although a small, devious part of me – a part I would never reveal to this ranger – could relate to the impulse to break into Bodie after dark. During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, even with the tourists milling about. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.

As we walked I recognised the buildings that flanked Main Street from the infinite Instagram photos I’d scrolled through before arriving in Bodie, all padlocked doors and faded wooden beams propping up improbably angled roofs. But what the photos can’t capture is the arthritic creaks that the buildings make in the lightest breeze, barely strong enough to propel a hay bale.

“Don’t be tempted to take anything home with you”, the ranger said, seeing me pick up some piece of twisted metal off the ground. If you remove anything from the town, the legend goes, you’ll be haunted by the “Bodie Curse”. In the museum I read accounts of visitors who had taken items – nails, bottles, books – and written in to say they had been plagued by bad luck. Yeah, right. This was a fantasy one step too far for me.

The ranger led us around some of the town’s best-preserved spots with the tallest of accompanying tales. The old school which was burnt to the ground by a pupil, whose family was subsequently banished from town. The tiny jail consisting of only two cells but nonetheless frequently occupied during the height of Bodie’s lawlessness. The road where Chinatown used to be, with its Taoist Temple and sordid opium dens.

But I was just as interested in everything that wasn’t covered by the tour.

This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.
One particularly unassuming house caught my eye and I slipped off from the group. I half expected to peer through the window to see a perfectly presented scene, complete with waxwork models and a faded information board, maybe a broomstick propped up against the wall. But what I saw was a collapsed ceiling and rips of wallpaper defying gravity with the very last of its fibres. On the floor, ochre-drenched sheets of paper that were dropped and never picked up. This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.

I peered into the carriages of the battered old cars lying about, inspected the random bits of metallic junk that have been left to rust in the greying bush. Were it not for the blistering heat I could have spent hours exploring this ghost town, and what remains is only five percent of what was once here.

After a couple of hours I traipsed back to my car. Before putting the keys in the ignition, I paused. Quickly, I rummaged around my pockets to check I hadn’t accidentally picked up an unwanted souvenir from the park.

best places to get off the tourist in Rome

Lose yourself in the Quartiere Coppedè

There’s so much to grab tourists’ attention in central Rome that a magical spot like the Quartiere Coppedè can go unnoticed. Tucked away in the Trieste quarter (tram 3 or 19 to Piazza Buenos Aires), northeast of the centre, this flight of fancy was conceived by architect Gino Coppedè in 1919.

The predominantly Art Nouveau architecture is embellished with a riot of details – Florentine turrets, frescoed facades, medieval motifs and Gothic gargoyles – and sports such whimsical creations as a frog-embellished fountain, a “fairy cottage” and a “spider’s palace”.

Get lost in time at Cinecittà film studios

If you’ve visited the Roman Forum and struggled to summon up the epicentre of the ancient world from this large open space littered with rubble and broken columns, you could always cheat and head to Cinecittà.

Within easy reach of the centre by metro, these film studios house the set of the HBO/BBC blockbuster Rome, with its impressive reconstruction of the Forum, its buildings intact and brightly painted as they would have been in ancient times.

Littered with props from iconic films, Cinecittà has plenty of tributes to the “Hollywood on the Tiber” classics of its Dolce Vita-era heyday, as well as spaghetti western memorabilia and more.

Take in some quirky culture at Villa Torlonia

Few tourists make their way to this palm-shaded park north of the centre – it’s not only a shady retreat on a scorching summer’s day but also has an intriguing history.

The estate was given to Mussolini in the 1930s to use for as long as he needed it, and his home, the frescoed Casino Nobile, is open to the public.

Nearby, the World War II bunker built for Mussolini and his family has recently been opened to the public and can be visited on engaging guided tours.

Another offbeat sight, nestled in the corner of the park, is the Casina delle Civette (“Little House of the Owls”), a Liberty-style building packed with beautiful Art Nouveau features: eagle-eyed visitors will spot the owls and other birds that feature in stained glass throughout the house.

Admire Tor Marancia’s street art

If you’ve had your fill of Renaissance and Baroque art, head to the city’s fringes for a glimpse of some modern-day masterpieces. Rome’s street-art scene has blossomed in recent years, as part of a council-run initiative to regenerate downtrodden and neglected areas.

A case in point is Tor Marancia (walking distance from Garbatella metro stop), where a housing estate has been given a colourful facelift by twenty international artists. Monumental murals in different artistic styles emblazon the sides of eleven buildings – from US artist Gaia’s De Chirico-inspired giant orange on a cobalt background to French artist Seth’s outsize child, whose crayoned ladder allows him to scale five storeys.

Picnic in Parco degli Acquedotti

Film buffs might recognize the Parco degli Acquedotti from the opening scene of Fellini’sLa Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ is helicoptered from the city’s working-class outskirts to the Vatican.

The park is even more impressive in technicolour: criss-crossed with the hulking remains of ancient Roman aqueducts, which brought thousands of litres of water into the city every day, and dotted with wildflowers and grazing sheep, it’s a popular spot with picnicking locals and joggers.

It’s pretty much undiscovered by tourists, though, and easy to get to (a short walk from Giulio Agricola metro), making it a great spot to appreciate the genius of the ancient Romans without battling the crowds.

Pay your respects at the Protestant Cemetery

The Protestant Cemetery, tucked away behind high stone walls in the Testaccio district, might not be your first sightseeing choice, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable place for a wander, with lichen-covered headstones and ornate tombs carrying some fascinating and poignant stories of the non-Catholic foreigners that ended up here.

The cemetery’s most famous residents are Keats and Shelley; the former, who died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821, has an unnamed grave, engraved at his request with the words “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”.

Discover Rome’s quieter side in Garbatella

A curiosity in the industrial Ostiense district, Garbatella (metro line B) was built in the 1920s following the English “garden city” model, with rustic, low-rise buildings clustered around peaceful communal gardens and courtyards.

Originally built to house people displaced by Mussolini’s demolitions in the city centre, Garbatella’s inclusive design fostered a strong sense of community that still survives today. It’s an appealing place for a breather from central Rome, and is gaining a reputation as a foodie hotspot, with a good mix of earthy trattorias and hip new venues.

guide to India’s Golden Triangle

What is the Golden Triangle?

The Golden Triangle is the route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and is named for the almost-equilateral triangle that the three cities make when plotted on a map. Starting in the capital, Delhi, and taking in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it’s India’s most well-trodden tourist track. Why “Golden”? Well, for the extraordinary religious and historical sights that the three stops offer.

What are the highlights?

Most people start in Delhi, where the majority of international flights arrive. While you could spend weeks exploring the city’s sights, from the museums of the Mughal Red Fortto the towering Qutb Minar and the British Raj-era India Gate, the best way to get a feel for the capital’s dynamism is by walking through its streets and bazaars. Two of the most vibrant are Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi and New Delhi’s Paharganj.

The magnificent Taj Mahal is, unsurprisingly, Agra’s premier sight, and nothing can really prepare you for the sheer scale and regal splendour of the structure up close. Try to time your visit with sunrise or sunset, when the Taj is at its most majestic. Nearby Agra Fort is also well worth a visit; from its walls, you can spot the Taj Mahal rising up in the distance.

At the triangle’s third corner is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, which is known as the “Pink City” for its walled, pink-hued cluster of buildings. Wander around the centre to stumble across historical highlights such as Hawa Mahal and the impressive City Palace. Jaipur is well known for traditional crafts and designs, so it’s the place to shop for fabrics and presents to take home.

Where can I escape the crowds?

Throughout the Golden Triangle, the best way to escape from the throng is often to step into one of the many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim buildings scattered around the cities. Inside, you will find oases of calm, as well as some of the circuit’s most beautiful structures.

In Delhi, just a short drive away from the city centre, visit Swaminarayan Akshardham. This Hindu temple was built in 2011 using traditional methods, but its grandness and intricate decoration evoke a far older era. It’s a huge complex, and photography is banned, both of which give the opportunity for peaceful reflection away from the selfie sticks and smartphones snapping away in most of the city’s monuments.

The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are invariably jam-packed, so consider taking a day trip to nearby Fatehpur Sikri if you really want to get away from it all. The small city, which was once the capital of the Mughal empire, is an hour from Agra, and the grand, red sandstone Jodha Bais palace buildings and imposing Jama Masjid mosque remain comparatively untouristed.

Jaipur is the least hectic of the Golden Triangle’s cities, and just wandering around the backstreets you’ll be able to find yourself off the main tourist track. Outside the city, Nahargarh Fort gives the best viewpoint over the sprawling streets, while a visit to Galtajiis an entertaining opportunity to admire the hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys that have taken over the ancient temple complex.

What’s the best way to get around?

The Golden Triangle is well connected by public transport. If you’re on a strict budget, the cheapest way to travel is by bus; Indian bus journeys are an experience in their own right, as people tumble in, perching on armrests and sitting in the aisle.

Far and away the best way to travel is by train, and you’ll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of rural India as you roll through the countryside. Book your ticket in advance, either online or at a train station.

Otherwise, if you only have a few days, consider hiring a taxi from a government-approved company to take you around, allowing you to see as much as you can in the time available.

Within the cities, take an autorickshaw (or tuk-tuk) between destinations – thick traffic makes these small vehicles the most effective way to travel, as they dip and dive between taxis and trucks. They can be hair-raising, but also fast, inexpensive (make sure you agree a price beforehand) and a fun way to see India at its most chaotic.

How can I avoid Delhi belly?

Not everyone gets ill in India, but it can put a downer on your holiday. So-called “Delhi belly” comes from drinking unsafe water, and the cheapest and most environmentally friendly strategy to avoid it is to use water purification tablets. If you struggle with the taste, bottled water is also readily available (just ensure that the lid is sealed).

Make sure your food is always hot and freshly cooked, and avoid raw fruit and vegetables, which may have been washed in unfiltered water. Finally, don’t worry too much and you’ll be able to make the most of the delicious curries and Indian snacks on offer.

9 The most beautiful places in India

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

4. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team.

3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

From July to September, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office.

2. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.

1. Lakshadweep

Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches… The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep (‘100,000 islands’ – though there are actually just 36) was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.